Essay by Nicky Dover
"There are often lists of the great living male movie stars: De Niro, Nicholson and Pacino, usually. How often do you see the name of Nicolas Cage? He should always be up there. He's daring and fearless in his choice of roles, and unafraid to crawl out on a limb, saw it off and remain suspended in air. No one else can project inner trembling so effectively.... He always seems so earnest. However improbable his character, he never winks at the audience. He is committed to the character with every atom and plays him as if he were him." -Roger Ebert
When it comes to off-the-walls, breaks-removed acting, Nicolas Cage is a legend. In the years since his portrayals of teen bad-boy heartthrobs in the '80s, Cage has become known for his epic breakdowns, his prolific filmography (he's appeared in at least one film per year since 1980, with the exception of 1985 and 1991), and his willingness to deliver any line given without a hint of sarcasm. In this retrospective, we look at the films that best take Nic Cage (and occasionally, the bunny) out of the box.
Born Nicolas Coppola, nephew of Francis Ford Coppola, he chose his current name to avoid being favored due to associations with his uncle. He named himself after Luke Cage, the real name of Power Man from Marvel Comics. In this retrospective, we follow him through his role as a teen bad-boy in Peggy Sue Got Married, his only role under the direction of his uncle, who threatened to fire him after he insisted on using a falsetto. We go through his critical and art-house successes with David Lynch's Wild at Heart, Nic Cage's Academy Award winning role in Leaving Las Vegas, and his Academy Award nominated role in Adaptation. We also go through his action successes with Con Air, National Treasure, and Face/Off, and choose to end with his box-office and critical-flop but cult success, The Wicker Man. Because, as Roger Ebert said, "Cage is a good actor in good movies, and an almost indispensable actor in bad ones."
(Francis Ford Coppola, 1986) · Peggy Sue is getting divorced from her husband (Nicolas Cage). But when Peggy Sue faints and wakes up in her senior year of High School, even knowing the pains of the last 25 years, can she find it in herself to break away from Nic Cage's magnetism? Directed by his uncle, Francis Ford Coppola, Nic Cage insisted on speaking in a voice mimicking Pokey from "The Gumby Show", an artistic choice he refused to change even when Coppola threatened to fire him.
runtime: 104 min format: 35mm
(Mike Figgis, 1995) · Based on John O'Brien's semi-autobiographical novel, Nicolas Cage plays an alcoholic whose addiction has cost him his family and job. He moves to Las Vegas to kill himself with alcohol over the course of a month. In the process, a hardened prostitute (Elisabeth Shue) falls in love with him and takes him in. To prepare for his role, which he won an Academy Award for Best Actor for, Cage spent two weeks binge drinking in Dublin and filming himself.
runtime: 112 min format: 35mm
(Simon West, 1997) · Cameron Poe (Nicholas Cage), a rugged ex-army ranger with a heart of gold, is sentenced to prison for accidently killing a drunk man who attempted to assault his pregnant wife. Paroled on good conduct eight years later, he is set to fly back to Alabama on prison transport for release. But when Cyrus "The Virus" Grissom (John Malkovich) overcomes security on the plane, it's up to Poe to stop the chaos and make sure that the bunny is put back in the box.
runtime: 115 min format: 35mm
(John Woo, 1997) · When supercop Shaun Archer (John Travolta) takes down nemesis Castor Troy (Nicolas Cage), he goes undercover in Troy's face to get info from Troy's brother about a bomb set to level LA. But when Troy wakes up from his coma and puts on Archer's face, it's up to the real Archer (now Cage) to get his life back. Nic Cage only accepted the role after being told that while technically the bad guy, he'd actually be playing the good guy for most of the movie.
runtime: 138 min format: 35mm
(David Lynch, 1990) · Greeted by boos at Cannes, "Wild at Heart" begins with Nicolas Cage suddenly, brutally beating a character's brains out. The film, ostensibly a road movie, switches between comedic, horrifying, and confusing, and is sometimes all three at once. Culminating with a revelatory appearance of Glinda the Good from "The Wizard of Oz", David Lynch and Nic Cage manage to complement each other for crazy in all the tastiest ways. "Don't turn away love, sailor."
runtime: 125 min format: 35mm
(Martin Scorsese, 1999) · Cage is Frank Pierce, a Hell's Kitchen ambulance paramedic who steadily comes unglued in this blistering reunion of Scorsese and Paul Schrader. Deploying the same aggressively paced filmmaking as in "Goodfellas", but this time in the service of a glamor-free, compellingly human story, Scorsese sends his camera careening into the dark corners of Gotham. Cage's entirely singular performance anchors a work which Scorsese still hasn't topped in the time since.
runtime: 120 min format: 35mm
(Spike Jonze, 2002) · It's writer Charlie Kaufman's triumphant second collaboration with Spike Jonze. Cage plays two tic-laden and nebbishy twins, Charlie Kaufman and his ficitonal twin brother, Donald. The former is adapting a Susan Orlean (as played by Meryl Streep) book while the latter is writing a commercial horror movie that flies in the face of everything Charlie values. Featuring Chris Cooper being crazier than Cage, this is a meta-movie of the highest order.
runtime: 104 min format: 35mm
(Jon Turteltaub, 2004) · Descending from a long line of treasure hunters seeking a Templar fortune, Benjamin Franklin Gates (Nic Cage) discovers a clue which could lead to a vast treasure. Pursuing him is Ian Howe (Sean Bean), another treasure hunter planning to use the treasure for his own gain. Gates must find the treasure before Howe, even if it means stealing the Declaration of Independence. Part Dan Brown, part Tomb Raider, this film also manages to steal Doc's heart.
runtime: 126 min format: 35mm
(Neil LaBute, 2006) · In this remake of the 1973 classic, Policeman Edward Malus receives news from his ex-fiancé that their daughter is missing. Flying to an island populated by neo-pagans in search of his daughter, he discovers that there is much more to these neopagans than bear suits and bees. Thanks to the bizarre script and Nic Cage's doubled-down acting, this film, which was nominated for five Razzies, is now a cult-classic and is a must-see for a true Cage fan.
runtime: 102 min format: 35mm
(Werner Herzog, 2009) · Terrence McDonagh (Nicolas Cage), a particularly immoral police lieutenant, turns progressively less moral while trying to get his fix for a back pain-inspired narcotics addiction. He solves a brutal murder all while navigating drug dealers, his bookie, his hooker girlfriend, Val Kilmer, and iguanas. The pairing of Herzog and Cage recaptures the manic glory of the director's famed Kinski Kollabs, producing Cage's most focused insanity in years.
runtime: 122 min format: 35mm